Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 6, 2014

How do you calculate the area of the triangle?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 6, 2014

HS Triangle

How do we calculate the area of homeland security?  Is there a third dimension?  Can we imagine a fourth?

Natural: Chronic drought 

Accidental: Spark or flame ignites brush

Intentional: Vandalism, arson and/or terrorism, developing the urban/wilderness interface

Natural: Snow and ice

Accidental:  Fender-benders and worse, surging volume, sagging power-lines (see below for entropy, stress, fatigue and related)

Intentional: Voluntarily piling onto already clogged and/or dangerous roads; evacuating into higher risk

Natural: Rivers flow, flood, and dry-up

Accidental: Incremental concentration of hydration, sanitation, and or commerce resulting in contamination and/or exhaustion

Intentional: Failure to adjust behavior after consequences of accidental outcomes

Natural:  Long-cycle sea rise and more intense storms

Accidental: Legacy use and construction 

Intentional:  Public subsidization of private risk, persistent concentration to river sides and sea sides

Natural: Human socialization

Accidental: Social stratification, separation, specialization, alienation

Intentional: Oppression and/or resentment and/or dehumanization of one social group by another (may emerge into various forms of  deadly aggression)

Natural: Various infectious agents, disease, pandemic

Accidental: Animal-to-human and human-t0-human transfer (see human socialization)

Intentional: Weaponization

Natural: Entropy, stress, fatigue

Accidental: Breakage and failure

Intentional: Explosive and/or continual stress to generate specific failures (see human socialization and related)

Natural: Complex cascades

Accidental: Unpredictable punctuation

Intentional: Purposeful punches and/or negligent choice and/or active denial of reality


Natural: Relating to the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities. (Latin natura: condition of birth)

Accidental: Relating to any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause. (Latin Latin accident: happening, present participle of accidere to befall)

Intentional: Relating to have in mind as something to be done or brought about or plan for purposeful implementation, especially if self-serving. (Latin intendere: to stretch towards, aim at)


Equilibrium is death. Change is catastrophic.

We must adapt because we cannot predict. 

Per Bak

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2014 @ 4:31 am

Phil! A really great post! Off the top of my head the only thing I would suggest is that for the built environment [made by humans] the design [capacity or strength] is exceeded or fails [intentionally or unintentionally]!

And many many man made structures never have had an as-built study to determine if the design was modified during actual construction [wrong materials?]!

Perhaps a DISCLOSURE TAX so that those failing to adequately disclose hazards are assessed when the eventual incident or event costs lives or allows destruction of property.

I have often pointed out that the USACOE does not bear their full costs of its flood control projects because of its immunity under 33 USC Section 702! Thus, it often fails to disclose to all the hazards of failure or excedence of design capacity or frequency including uncertainty [Werner Heisenberg?] of its flood control projects.

Storm Sandy relief largely rewarded the negligence of New Jersey and New York officials many elected with funds from those who profited from that lack of disclosure.

In the financial crisis clearly there were some negligent debtors but they were not bailed out while the negligent creditors often were.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 6, 2014 @ 5:14 am

Bill and all: A few notes. I had mostly finished this post before reading Arnold’s Wednesday post. While clearly related, it is more harmonic than melodic.

The approach is motivated by what seems an amazing coincidence of current events: Atlanta traffic debacle, West Virginia water crisis, California water crisis, cyber-crime sprees, a repeat in Syria of the terrorist training we saw in the Balkans, Caucasus, and Hindu Kush. Events in Egypt, across North Africa, and plenty of other places reseeding terrorist sympathies. Did you see reports of a new strain of Avian flu? We could each keep the list going.

The exercise did reinforce a tendency to doubt that “natural” (when defined as existing independently of human activities) exists in anything like a pure form on most places on this planet. Our built environment and behaviors have so effectively invaded and complicated the natural.

Comment by John Comiskey

February 6, 2014 @ 6:46 am

HLS is risk management AND negligence/malfeasance management too!

?Null Hypothesis(Ho): There is no statistical significance in risks properly identified and negligent/malfeasant identification of risks

?Alternate Hypothesis(Ha): Risks properly identified are statistically negligently/malfeasantly not identified

This blogger self identifies as a pragmatist and NOT a contrarian nor a conspiracist.

The Strategic National Risk Assessment properly applied offers a semblance of HLS reality:
Risks are identified and processes are identified to prevent/mitigate threats. But; human nature, error, self-deception, ignorance, greed, avarice, and others all too often muddle their way into the process

HLS post mortems ad naseum tell us as much: 9/11 Commission (2004);Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared (2005);Financial Inquiry Report(2011); Superstorm Sandy After Action Report (2013);New York State Commission Report(2013);Newtown Massacre Report (2013)and others

Risks and particularly low-probability high-consequence events are kicked down the road. Limited resources, lack of political will (irresponsibility), and a disengaged civil society are the culprits.

Added to the malaise are: leaders at all levels that are unable and/or unwilling to transform government to meet the needs of the 21st century; unscrupulous officials who manipulate government and private sector resources for the own ends, a rapidly emerging womb to the tomb entitlement mindset, and an educational system that is woefully inadequate for the 21st century.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2014 @ 10:57 am

Thanks Phil and John!

Tom Englehardt has an interesting post on Climate Change on Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog!I use my FACEBOOK page under William R. Cumming as a blog! Also posted there!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2014 @ 11:50 am

Extract from Wikipedia:

Per Bak

After receiving his Ph.D. from the Technical University of Denmark in 1974, Bak worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory. He specialized in phase transitions, such as those occurring when an insulator suddenly becomes a conductor or when water freezes. In that context, he also did important work on complicated spatially modulated (magnetic) structures in solids. This research led him to the more general question of how organization emerges from disorder.

In 1987, he and two postdoctoral researchers, Chao Tang and Kurt Wiesenfeld, published an article in Physical Review Letters setting a new concept they called self-organized criticality. The first discovered example of a dynamical system displaying such self-organized criticality, the Bak-Tang-Wiesenfeld sandpile model, was named after them.

Faced with many skeptics, Bak pursued the implications of his theory at a number of institutions, including the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Santa Fe Institute, the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Imperial College London, where he became a professor in 2000.

In 1996, he took his ideas to a broader audience with his ambitiously entitled book, How Nature Works. In 2001, Bak learned that he had myelodysplastic syndrome and died from it the following year. Bak is survived by his second wife, Maya Paczuski, a fellow physicist at Imperial College with whom he has coauthored papers,[1][2] and his four children.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

Perhaps it is Phil’s diagrammatic analysis or even the amazing Per Bak quote but I believe I am coming to a revolution in my thinking! Arnold has also helped!

This coming October 1st I will have been retired from FEMA 15 years. Only once called in by FEMA OGC or OCC for consultation and then by Diane Donnelly. Esq. to answer a single question! Did the joint NRC/FEMA regs at 10 CFR Part 50 and 44 CFR Part 350 include coverage of a fast breaking core melt accident or incident! My answer was the same as while under oath in a public hearing on the application for license of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station. The answer being NO!

In my time in FEMA I worried a great deal about the slow response time of the federal government to fast breaking events. Knowing full well the immense pressure a delayed federal response placed on underfunded, understaffed, under equipped States and their local governments and even NGO’s like the ARC.

I thought this was the essential and fundamental flaw in both public safety, public health, Fire Service, law enforcement, HS and EM, and even military support to civil authorities.

Perhaps just not smart enough. Because I now seem to be moving towards the notion I missed the forest for the trees. As part of the founding generation in FEMA I had viewed FEMA as largely a technical organization with a skilled but small staff skilled in engineering and science. This clearly never happened as FEMA’s primary focus has been and remains dealing out federal funds to a variety of recipients almost always with poor controls.

But the rise of slow moving science and technical issues such as climate change threaten to overwhelm a federal establishment and federal system that like the proverbial frog in a pan of slowly heating water soon boils to death.

Can we and the frogs avoid such a fate and reorganize ourselves to do so?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 6, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

Bill: You’ve just articulated what I perceive to be a substantive difference between “emergency management” and “homeland security.” The technical methods and means you articulate are still needed. But there is another class of risks — less acute than chronic — which require effective attention and engagement.

As Quin, John, and I were discussing here yesterday, these are not the typical targets of the legacy professions. And neither homeland security nor Homeland Security have, as yet, really figured out what kind of scope would allow us to always sight (much less capture) the targets.

I wish I had more time… but am being called away, probably for the rest of the day… but yes, I agree, there is considerable self-organizing to do, along the lines of Bak’s self-organization of complex adaptive systems.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

Thanks Phil! And I should have added and now do add that the vision of FEMA as a largely technical organization is because I viewed FEMA’s principal mission as mitigating and preventing disasters not rewarding those who in the face of fact caused or added to the destruction, or who exploit the commons without regards to costs direct and indirect to others.

President Carter offered Superfund to FEMA but then Director Macy turned it down on the basis that it did not involve EMERGENCIES! A program now starved for affection in EPA!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 6, 2014 @ 1:51 pm

The effective downgrade of the FIRE SERVICE policy advocacy in Washington by eliminating the Administrator position as a PAS, and the abolition of the Federal Insurance Administrator as a PAS by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 continues to reveal that FEMA largely an ATM with no effective policy role.

Thus, my continuing recommendation that federal disaster relief be converted to block grants conditioned on avoidance of repetitive losses.

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